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Last Tuesday evening In Chinatown, San Francisco, 27-year-old Forrest Liu spotted a four-passenger blue limousine idling on the side of the road in front of a grill restaurant. A woman in a red apron piled paper output bins on the counter, preparing to head home that night. Liu, with round glasses, a black hat and Nike shoes, recently led a patrol around the area similar to a neighborhood watch.
He raised a walkie-talkie to his face and asked for assistance. “Can you come to Stockton and Jackson?” he asked, sharing his location with another volunteer.
“I don’t think anything is wrong, but if something is wrong, the more people watch it, the less likely it will happen.”
He wasn’t exactly nervous about the car, which might have been there for a number of reasons, but he wanted to be vigilant just in case. Attacks against Asian Americans had increased in the Bay Area – and across the country – for months, with at least three attacks in the city the previous week, including a 75-year-old woman and an 83-year-old man. An idle car with multiple passengers could theoretically be an easy getaway vehicle if someone wanted to jump out and rob a shopkeeper. “I don’t think something is wrong, but if something is wrong, the more people are watching it, the less likely it will happen,” Liu said to another patrol member, continuing to watch the car. About five minutes later the driver drove away. “I think we scared them,” Liu said to a woman with dyed purple hair, another volunteer who came to join him.
Mike Kai Chen
It is important, however, to make room for people, not just in Chinatown – where security patrols and much of the media are concentrated – but also in other parts of the city where certain crimes are also on the rise, including other largely black and Asian areas . In the Richmond borough, Pam Tau Lee, a longtime organizer who is 73, says she barely left home for months after a white man pushed her into a Starbucks during the pandemic. Her daughter-in-law and son bought her pepper spray and an alarm button, but she was too scared to venture out until a few weeks ago she emailed her Richmond District Rising neighborhood group asking if someone would join her . Several people answered within minutes. “It was great to be able to be outside and just go and laugh and talk,” she says. “For me it is important not to come as a victim, but to come into our community with an open heart in order to place your vulnerability out there and just take a kind of step forward.”
The voluntary security patrols are a clear sign that people are stepping up and especially wanting to help their elders who have been exposed to racism for a lifetime. “Violence against Asian Americans has been around for years, even in the railroad days, and it was never a big deal – people didn’t care,” says Louie, who remembers being bullied in school as a kid to be in San Francisco. “It seems like we’ve been invisible all these years. And now we’re finally showing up. ”
Mike Kai Chen
Mike Kai Chen
“This is another example of communities trying to fill a void left by larger systems and being underfunded in the process,” said Tran, the Oakland-based author. She thinks the patrols and escort services are a good idea and wonders what they would be like if they weren’t just run by volunteers, but had more investment from the city and more resources behind them. “Because who doesn’t want someone to go to the store with them when they’re scared? I think that’s really nice. Even if the reason we have to have it is unfortunate. “
More resources could be on the way soon. Last Wednesday, Mayor Breed announced that the city of San Francisco would launch new community security measures to protect members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. By the summer, as part of an existing violence intervention program, the city hopes to deploy culturally competent outreach workers as part of security teams in Chinatown, Richmond and other parts of the city. The city will also expand a senior citizen escort program to help more seniors run errands.
In the meantime, the neighbors seem to continue to lend a hand. Liu stood in front of the park late Tuesday evening and said he was not sure how long he would walk in Chinatown to look for possible violence. “I don’t want to patrol forever. Nobody here wants that, ”he says. “We’ll just do it until it stops.”
Mike Kai Chen